Getting your marketing and targeting right not only comes down to good segmentation but also great persona development.
Unfortunately, it can be easy to make a few simple mistakes with your persona development that significantly reduces their effectiveness.
Get the most out of your buyer personas and avoid these mistakes.
Read more: Understanding your Audience, the complete guide to market research.
1) Basing your buyer persona on one real customer
It can be tempting to base your personas on your highest-paying or most agreeable customer from a particular group. We'd encourage you to avoid doing this, as no single person can fully represent your target market.
Your buyer persona should be a representative, combined description of all current (and potential customers) in your specified target audience.
To do this, consider what the "average" person in your selected audience would be like.
Start with the basic demographics:
- How old is the average person in your audience?
- Is there a greater representation from males or females?
- What is the average income band?
- What is the most common living location and household type?
- What kind of education level is most represented in the group?
Some of this data does better to be represented as a range, rather than a single number. The average age, for example, might be 34, but you'd likely to better off creating a persona whose age could be between 30 and 40.
But no buyer persona is complete without psychographics; their interests, fears, desires and goals. In essence, their human side.
The key to doing this effectively is coding your qualitative data. That is, categorising and sorting the data into meaningful information that can be analysed. The result is a persona with a personality that best represents the majority of your audience.
The key is finding the balance between including enough people in your audience without getting so vague you are trying to appeal to too many people.
You send out a survey to your customers for the purposes of developing a buyer persona. Included in this survey is a question regarding the respondent's use of their spare time. This is an open-ended question, which will feature a large variety of uniquely worded responses.
As you read through the responses, you sort the comments into categories.
One might be "Time with family", and would include all responses that expressly mention their spare time is spent with their partner, parents, kids or other family members.
Another category might be "Sports", where all responses that mention some form of sporting activity (regardless of actual sport) are placed.
From this data, you find that the vast majority of your targeted audience spend their spare time playing sport. As a result, you include "sports" amongst the interests of your buyer persona. You don't put which sport specifically, as this would be too specific and would cut out a lot of your audience from being represented in your persona.
Related content: How to develop your buyer personas – step by step
2) Being inconsistent
However, simply averaging out your psychographics is not enough. You'll need to ensure that the persona is internally consistent as well; that is, they don't hold any mutually exclusive perspectives.
If you average out certain traits of your target audience and apply these to your persona without thought, you can end up with some odd combinations.
For example, you could have a persona that simultaneously loves animals but has no pets, or values time with friends but spends all their spare time alone.
These scenarios aren't impossible, but they are unlikely. These psychographic traits are inconsistent with one another and can result in serious confusion among your staff around who they are actually selling to or creating content for.
Our advice is this: if you encounter this kind of inconsistency, segment your data by one of the offending traits and check if the other inconsistent trait is still significant.
If it does, there might be something you've missed in your initial analysis or coding. That person who loves animals but has no pets could be a long-term renter, for example, and might simply not have the opportunity to have an animal in their present circumstances.
If it doesn't, you could have stumbled upon a secondary persona in your target audience. People with completely opposite perspective can still be attracted by the same offering, after all.
After you sent out your survey to uncover hobbies, you analyse your survey results and find that there is a large proportion of your respondents who said they play sports regularly on one question, and an equally large proportion who answered that they hate physical activity on another question.
You note that this is a serious inconsistency. It wouldn't make much sense for your persona to love tennis but hate running, but perhaps there is something you are missing. You segment your data by "Sports Lovers" and confirm that very few (if any) of these people indicated they didn't like physical activity.
You strike "doesn't like physical activity" from your burgeoning ‘Sportsperson’ persona.
Then, out of curiosity, you segment your data by "doesn't like physical activity". You're surprised to find that despite the difference in perspective towards exercise, there is a significant number of traits in this segment that would make them a good fit for your offering.
You note this down, deciding to investigate a "Couch Potato" persona later down the line.
Related content: Everything you need to know about the 4 types of market segmentation
3) Making your buyer persona 'perfect'
When creating fictional people, there can be a tendency for some people to avoid giving them any flaws. In creative writing, this is known as a Mary Sue, and is generally frowned upon for being unrealistic for the reader.
Creating this kind of persona is as much of a sin in persona-building as it is in book-crafting, and for a similar reason: the lack of realism.
By creating a persona that has no flaws or imperfections, you are closing yourself off from considering what kinds of needs or challenges they might be facing—and how you might be able to resolve them.
The key to avoiding this kind of perfect persona is considering and investigating potential challenges and/or weaknesses among your audience during your research.
You don't have to be as blunt as asking "what parts of life do you struggle with?" on an email survey, for example, but you could ask your researchers to notate any potential difficulties they notice during interviews or focus groups, for example.
Your Sportsperson persona is coming together well. Sportsperson Simon, as you've named them, is between 20 and 30, male, is recently married and either has one child already or one on the way.
His family has a household income of about $130k, and they feel comfortable financially.
They have a happy home life, and Simon loves spending time with his family as well as with his local sports club.
Simon finds a lot of fulfilment in his athletic achievements, and hopes one day to become a semi-professional in his chosen arena.
This persona has some potential, but at no point does Simon appear to have any explicit weaknesses. This leaves you scratching your head over how you can appeal to Simon to use your product or service. With no challenges apparent, why would Simon choose anything other than the status quo?
You go back to your research, and uncover that the target audience Simon represents has a few notes from the interviews. These notes highlight that your interviewees frequently expressed frustration in their inability to improve at their chosen sport—they've hit a wall.
You add this fact to your persona, and one of your marketers comes up with a new campaign that centres around how your product or service can give them more time to train, or boost their performance at the sport, or otherwise help them overcome this newly-identified challenge.
For more information, make sure to read the Persona Development Worksheet, our all-in-one guide to developing buyer personas.